The 8 Best Hill Workouts in San Diego

Summer is here and there’s no better time to take your workout outside!

Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, we can all agree that hills and stairs are incredible way to improve your level of fitness. You’ll build cardiovascular endurance AND build muscle strength & power in a short amount of time. Because hill repeats naturally create intervals of high and low intensity (HIIT training), they are also an incredible way to improve your metabolic function. (Fat burning while at rest, anyone?)

And if you’re a runner, look to hill training to increase the power and efficiency of your stride, as well as strengthen the muscles that will make you much less injury-prone.

I love hill workouts because you don’t need much time to get a fantastic sweat session out of it!

And remember, these hills can work for ANY level of fitness…

Beginner:

Start slow, walk the hill at your own pace, and rest at the top and bottom as long as you need to recover. Repeat the hill if you can, starting with even just 15 total minutes of work.

Intermediate:

Start increasing your intensity uphill; whether that means speed walking or taking it up to a jog pace. Walk down, and rest 1-2 minutes. Repeat the hill as you are able.

Advanced:

Once you're properly warmed up, take the hill at a run or sprint pace. Jog down, rest 10-30 seconds. Repeat 6-10 times. Also consider adding intervals of strength like push-ups, squats, or lunges at the top or bottom of the hill.

Here are 8 of my favorite places for a great hill workout in San Diego:

1. San Diego Convention Center Stairs

The San Diego Convention Center has lots of different sets of stairs all over the property, and from the top you’ll enjoy beautiful views of San Diego harbor and Coronado Island on one side, and of the downtown skyline on the other. The main set of stairs has 100 steps, and faces downtown; the back side faces the harbor and has several other sets of stairs ranging from steep to gradual climbs. There’s also nice long pathway along the harbor should you want to add flat mileage to your workout.

Location/Parking:

The Convention Center is located at the end of 5th Avenue in the Gaslamp District, along East Harbor Drive. Park downtown along 5th Ave, OR in the Embarcadero Marina Park South parking lot. (Google map Joe’s Crab Shack to find it) Bring money for the parking meters – most spots on either side are metered.

Insider Tip: Avoid Padres game days (check schedule here) and check for major conventions in town, or you’ll find it very crowded! Go around sunset for a gorgeous view.

2. Laurel St.

This hill has some pretty impressive views of downtown, San Diego Bay, and jet planes zooming in right overhead for landing at the airport. If you park at the bottom and run from State St. all the way up Laurel to 6th Ave (which is the entrance to Balboa park) you’ll cover just over a half mile!

Location/Parking:

Laurel St. in Banker's Hill between Little Italy and Balboa Park - The steepest and main part of the hill is between State and Union streets; parking is usually ample on those streets.

Insider Tip: Run at Sunset for great views.

3. Tierrasanta Steps

I underestimated this set of stairs the first time I saw it, thinkingthat the Convention Center steps had to be bigger than these... But this steep set of stairs set in a residential neighborhood boasts 111 steep steps to the top, beating the CC's 100. It’s narrow, and un-maintained; use caution and/or the handrails, as some steps have pieces crumbling away.

Location/Parking:

On Clairemont Mesa Blvd. off the I-15 freeway, at the corner of Antigua Blvd. Unmetered street parking all around.

Insider Tip: My favorite workout here is: slow and steady up and back down again, repeated, with no breaks, for about 10 minutes.

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4. Upas St. (at Florida Canyon)

This is a sneaky spot; don't drive too fast down Florida St. or you'll miss it! This is actually two hills heading up from Florida Street's intersection with Upas; one side heads west, up Upas on a tiny residential road, and the other heads east, up a steep-sloped pedestrian-only ramp toward the park. Work both hills into your routine!

Parking/Location:

Hillcrest/North Park, near Morley Field at Balboa Park. Try parking on Upas just off Park Blvd., or along Florida St. near Upas for street parking. You can also park in the Balboa Tennis Club Parking lot.

Insider Tip: There are lots of beautiful trails in Florida Canyon (just south of this hill) to explore. There are also a few more good hills along Upas going east; if you go from Park Blvd. all the way along Upas until you reach Pershing Drive, you'll make it a 1.6 mile round-trip!

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5. Grandview Beach Stairs

All throughout North County San Diego there are cliffs along the water, and stairs to get you down to the sand... this one just happens to be my favorite! A long set of wood & concrete stairs leads you down to this beautiful strip of beach, where I love to add in some barefoot sprints, or just a long sunset walk. 

Location/Parking:

In Encinitas/Leucadia - take the Leucadia exit if driving north from San Diego. Find Neptune Ave, which runs along the water parallel to the 101, and take it to it's north end. There's a small parking lot and street parking; the stairs head out from the parking lot down to the beach.

Insider Tip: Enjoy the beach! Check for a mid- to low tide if you want to take a beach walk; not much sand remains during high tides.

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6. Hill Street

I mean, the name gives it away… but this hill is all about the gorgeous location. A long hill heading straight up from Sunset Cliffs Blvd., you’ll get spectacular views of the big ol’ blue ocean the entire way. Take it as a long walk, or run the steep, one-block middle-section in intervals.

Location/Parking:

In Ocean Beach, at the intersection of Sunset Cliffs Blvd. and Hill St. – the hill tops off around Alexandria Dr., about ¼ mile up. Parking is ample on Hill Street and around.

Insider Tip: At the bottom of the hill, take a left (south) to Ladera St. at the end of Sunset Cliffs Blvd., for another short add-on hill and more views! Another AWESOME sunset run.

7. B Street

This is a no-nonsense, quick and dirty hill – it’s only a block long, and steeeeep. It means business. Best for short, intense intervals.

Location/Parking:

In Golden Hill, close to the intersection of the I-5 and 94 freeways. The big hill is B St. between 20th & 21st St.; ample street parking around.

Insider Tip: Stop by one of my favorite coffee shops - Krakatoa, at the top of the Hill and just around the corner for a post-workout hydration break.

8. Black’s Beach Lifeguard Access Road

Black’s beach is famous for epic waves, and naked sunbathing. It’s also notoriously tough to get to –  the tall cliffs of Torrey Pines surround it and high tides make it tough to get through on the north/south beach ends. But lifeguards have this access road down to the beach; gated at the top and closed to public car traffic but open to those on foot (or skateboards - yikes!) It's just under one mile to the bottom and back up, round trip.

Location/Parking:

At the intersection of La Jolla Farms Road and Blackgold Road, in the Torrey Pines area of La Jolla. Look for the black gate across the road, and head down. Note that street parking is limited to 2 hours in the residential neighborhood surrounding during regular hours, so plan accordingly.

Insider Tips:

- Make it a beach day! One of the most gorgeous beaches in San Diego lies at the bottom. Don’t worry, there’s a keep-your-bikini-ON section as well as the clothing-optional area further down the beach.

- If you're lucky you'll catch a glimpse of some impressive and incredibly scary skateboarders shredding their way down the hill while you're there!

- Bring athletic shoes; you’ll want them if you’re planning any sort of speed up the hill.

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How about you?

Have any other favorites here in San Diego? Or comment below and tell us about a favorite hill where you live!

Happy-Hilly Trails!

xo January